COUNTY fire chiefs have urged education leaders to ignore government advice and continue installing sprinkler systems in all new schools.

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Authority chairman Rebecca Knox describes the government’s school fire safety position - to no longer expect most new schools to be fitted with sprinklers - as “extremely disappointing.”

Cllr Knox was speaking after the review of the government’s ‘Building Bulletin 100: design for fire safety in schools’ was put out for consultation.

This document sets out the proposal to no longer include any expectation that most new schools should be fitted with sprinklers, says the fire authority.

In December 2012 a huge blaze ripped through Lytchett Minster School’s creative arts block and theatre.

No-one was injured in the fire, but it later emerged the building did not have an automated sprinkler system fitted.

At the time of the blaze, Christchurch fire station commander Dave Arundel said: “This is probably the largest school fire of its kind we’ve had to deal with.”

Many fire experts believe a sprinkler system at Lytchett Minster School may have contained the blaze to a much smaller area, allowing the building to have been saved.

A replacement creative arts building was finally opened on campus last year.

Speaking this week, Cllr Knox said: “The fire authority is extremely disappointed that the government is considering removing the expectation of sprinklers being installed in new school buildings.

“Since the policy was introduced, sprinklers have been credited with saving 17 schools from huge fire damage.

“Fires in schools damage children’s education through loss of resources or coursework and can mean longer travelling times, disrupted social groups and poorer families.

“There are significant societal costs including the loss of jobs and the loss of building facilities to the community.”

Cllr Knox and Chief Fire Officer Darran Gunter have written to the Education Secretary Justine Greening to urge her to rethink the proposal.

Mr Gunter, who recently announced his retirement, said: “In Dorset and Wiltshire we know only too well how devastating school fires can be and how difficult they can be to deal with, not only for firefighters but also short and long term for the children, teachers and their families. Sprinklers within a school building limit the spread and growth of a fire and allow for quick evacuation of the children and staff.”

“I support the fire authority’s letter to our education and environmental leaders.”